An Expert Guide to Shun Knives

Published on 01/09/2024 · 12 min readExperience culinary craftsmanship! Our expert guide to Shun knives delves into their exceptional sharpness, durability, and elegant design.
Di Doherty, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Di Doherty

Photo by Tandem X Visuals

TL;DR: Shun is a Japanese knife maker that makes high end knives that they market and sell both to domestic audiences and Western ones. They have a variety of lines, so when buying a Shun knife, consider what type of knife you want, if you plan to buy a set, and how much you want to spend.

I’ve always been fascinated by knives, and my dad encouraged my interest by helping me grow my pocket knife collection. Once I became a dedicated home cook, my focus shifted to kitchen knives. I have a wide collection of carbon steel, stainless steel, and ceramic knives, both Western-style and Japanese-style.

Having the right tool makes cooking and baking so much easier, and I’m eager to impart what I've learned to help others.

Shun is a high-quality knife manufacturer, so it's hard to go wrong with any of their knives – but they’re all better at some tasks than others. Their chef’s knives, for instance, are geared primarily towards slicing, with the hard, sharp steel allowing for paper-thin slices, but the hard steel makes it so that they can be damaged by bones, joints, or hard vegetables.

Who Is Shun?

Shun (pronounced shoon) is a subsidiary of the KAI Group, which makes a variety of knives, razors, cutting tools, and cookware. The company is headquartered in Seki, Japan, which has been famed for its knife crafting since the 13th century. The KAI Group has been around for over 100 years, manufacturing knives and other cutting tools. In 2002, Shun broadened its market and introduced their knives to a Western audience.

Shun, in Japanese, is a culinary tradition. It means the time when a fruit or vegetable is at peak ripeness – the perfect time to use it. It emphasizes the seasonal aspect of the culinary tradition, and plays into their cutlery also being, as the company claims, “at the peak of perfection.”

What to Consider when Buying Shun Knives

Shun makes high-end Japanese-style knives. Here are some questions to ask yourself when picking out the right Shun cutlery for you.

What Type of Knife Do I Want?

Shun makes a wide variety of knife types, each with its own specialties. Selecting the right type of knife for what you plan to use it for will make a huge difference in its usefulness and longevity.

  • Chef’s knife: Japanese chef’s knives are sometimes called gyuto knives. These knives are multipurpose and excellent for cutting vegetables, meat, and fish. They’re made with a very hard steel, allowing for razor sharpness. They’re designed more for slicing than chipping, though they can do that as well.
  • Paring knife: These small knives are excellent for small or delicate takes, like coring tomatoes and peeling kiwis.
  • Santoku knife: Another multipurpose knife, santoku knives have a bend in the spine instead of on the blade, giving you a larger cutting surface. They have a ridgid blade, making them excellent for slicing, though they can also chop and mince, just not in a rocking motion.
  • Nakiri knife: Sometimes called a Japanese vegetable knife, nakiri knives resemble a small cleaver. They have a thin, square blade and are usually sharpened on both sides. They're designed to slice cleanly through vegetables, even hard ones like sweet potatoes.
  • Kiritsuke knife: This isn’t a knife that’s seen very often in the West, and it looks roughly like a mashup between a nakiri knife and a chef’s knife. It has a mostly square blade with a pointed tip, making it sword-like. As it's a hybrid, it's great for vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish.
  • Boning knife: Japanese-style boning knives, or gokujo knives, are meant to remove bones from meat. Smaller versions can also be used for fish fileting, but the blade is very rigid. Unlike Western boning knives, this knife has a curved blade, giving you additional dexterity.
  • Bread knife: These long, serrated knives are designed to slice bread and other baked goods. The serrations allow the blade to grip the bread and cut it rather than tear it.
  • Utility knife: Utility knives are in-between a chef’s knife and a paring knife. They have a shallow, longer blade that makes them excellent for slicing smaller amounts of meat, fish, or medium-sized vegetables. Shun also makes serrated utility knives, though the shape is different from most Western knives.
  • Filet knife: As the name implies, filet knives are primarily used for fileting fish. They have a thin, flexible blade for filing fish, but they also work well on poultry.
  • Slicing knife: A slicing knife is designed for slicing meat. It has a long, thin blade and a rounded tip and is excellent for boneless roasts.
  • Steak knife: These sharp table knives allow you to slice through pork, lamb, and beef portions.

How Do I Care for Shun Knives?

Photo by Mina709

Japanese-style knives are made of extremely hard, thin steel, meaning that they are vulnerable to chips. Taking proper care of the knife will reduce the likelihood of this immensely. Here are some tips to keep your knife like new:

  • Hand wash: Make sure to never put your knife in the dishwasher. This can damage and dull the blade and ruin your wooden handle (most Shun knives have pakkawood handles). After washing with a mild detergent, dry your knife with a soft cloth. Let it air dry briefly so no water is left on it before storing. While Shun’s knives are primarily made out of stainless steel, they’re high carbon stainless, so while they do have chromium added to make them stainless, they're less corrosion-resistant than regular stainless. The dishwasher and prolonged dampness can lead to corrosion, making your knife more likely to chip.
  • Cutting surface: Make sure that you're using a proper cutting surface, like a wooden cutting board, preferably one of softer wood like hinkoki. Hard-cutting surfaces, like metal, glass, or synthetic cutting boards, will be hard on your knife, dulling it and making it more susceptible to chipping.
  • Storage: Proper storage of your knife will make it last longer. Be sure to use a knife block, drawer organizer, or magnetic bar.
  • Honing: Keep your blades properly honed. Using a sharp knife will cause the edge of the blade to curl, and a honing rod will straighten that out. Knives that aren’t honed regularly can slip when cutting, and the edge can harden, potentially leading to a chip.
  • Watch what you use it on: With the exception of a few specialty knives, Shun knives aren’t meant to be used on bones, joints, frozen foods, or hard vegetables – all those can chip the blade.

Do I Want a Knife Set?

Photo by Kondor83

Shun offers various knife sets as well, including a variety of knives. Most of these come with knife blocks for storage as well. These are a greater investment, but will fill out your collection with matching cutlery.

Different Types of Shun Knives

Shun has several different lines of knives, each with different prices and features. These lines almost all produce the most commonly used knives, like chef’s knives, paring knives, and santoku knives, with the most specialized ones only having a few varieties of knives. Here’s a summary of their main pros and cons.

Dual Core

This line is extremely high-end. Each knife is handmade so there aren’t many of them available. They make use of two different types of steel, hence the name, to give the blade flexibility and strength.

Benefits:

  • Gorgeous handcrafted knives that will last a lifetime.
  • Comes with a saya, or sheath, to protect the blade.

Be aware:

  • These knives are typically more than $300.
  • Only has five types of knives: nakiri, santoku, kiritsuke, utility, and yanagiba.

Narukami

This series of knives is made out of carbon steel for an exceptional edge. They have micarta handles for easier care and develop a patina on the edge over time.

Benefits:

  • Carbon steel is extremely durable and holds an edge very well.
  • Patina adds beauty and character to an older blade.

Be aware:

  • Carbon steel is vulnerable to corrosion, even with the stainless steel cladding.
  • Only sold individually versus in a set.

Premier

These blades have a hammered finish, which is not only beautiful, but also makes food less likely to stick to the side. Its core is made with their proprietary VG-MAX steel and covered with 68 micro-layers of steel cladding.

Benefits:

  • Has a good selection, including brown, gray, and blonde pakkawood handle colors.
  • Can be purchased in a set.

Be aware:

  • While not Shun’s most expensive offering, they’re still an investment.

Classic

As the name suggests, this is Shun’s oldest line. The knives are incredibly sharp, made from layered Damascus steel, and have a pakkawood handle.

Benefits:

  • Has the largest number of knife types of any series.
  • Comes with black or blonde handle colors.

Be aware:

  • The D-shaped handles are more comfortable for right-handers than left-handers.

Kazahana

These knives are slightly more affordable than the higher-end Shun knives. They have a full exposed tang, black pakkawood handles, and a minimalist style.

Benefits:

  • More widely available for purchase.

Be aware:

  • Exposed tang isn’t flush with the handle the whole way down. On some knives, like the paring knife, it could be uncomfortable if your hand is against the metal.

Kanso

These knives are made with AUS10A steel and have a wooden handle with an exposed tang. The style is very similar to the Kazahana line, though they are slightly less expensive, and has a wider variety of knives, including a chef’s knife, nakiri knife, and bread knife.

Benefits:

  • Minimalist design matches any decor.
  • The knife line has an elegant look.

Be aware:

  • Wooden handles require oiling.
  • Uses a less high-quality steel than the higher-end Shun knives.

Sora

This is Shun’s budget line, relatively speaking. Sora knives are forged with VG10 steel for the cutting edge and softer steel on the upper blade.

Benefits:

  • An affordable, well-made knife line.
  • Has a full tang, meaning that the metal piece that connects to the handle goes all the way to the end.

Be aware:

  • Has a plastic handle, so it doesn't have the elegant, premium brand look most Shun knives do.
  • The 420J stainless steel on the blade upper is a lower quality steel.

Features to Look for

Photo by Stefan Pinter

All of Shun’s knives are made of high quality materials and will last for years if properly cared for. What features to look for will depend on your preferences. But here’s what I recommend in a Shun knife:

  • Pakkawood handles: Shun preliminary uses pakkawood for their knife handles. This is a wood composite that’s made of thin layers of hardwood pressed and adhered together with resin. It has the benefits of wood in look, feel, grip, and durability, but isn’t porous and is water resistant. It may need to be oiled occasionally to keep its sheen, but it requires less care.
  • Damascus steel: Making Damascus steel results in beautiful patterns on the blade, showcasing your knife’s beauty. The tsuchime finish on the premier knives is beautiful too, adding elegance to the knife. My opinion is that if you want to buy a premium brand, you might as well get a knife that looks the part.
  • End cap: Many Shun knives have a cap on the end of the blade where the tang attaches. This not only shows off the full tang, but can be used to press garlic or herbs, seeing as pressing on the side of the blade isn’t good for the knife.

How to Pick the Best Shun Knife for You

Finding the perfect knife can be a time consuming task. In order to help narrow down your choices, I'm going to describe three different people and what I’d recommend each of them to buy.

Madison: Hobbyist Cook Looking to Invest in Herself

Madison has some passable knives, but she’s looking to upgrade to better ones. She doesn't want to spend too much at once, but she’d like to get her most used knives upgraded.

Features to Look for:

  • A set with just a few knives, such as a starter set.
  • Knives in the Classic or Premier set so that they’re affordable but also beautiful.

Recommended Products: Shun Classic Starter Block Set, Shun Premier Starter Block Set

Dylan: Young Professional Looking for High-Quality Knives

Dylan has decided to pay more attention to his health, and that means that he wants to start cooking for himself more. A friend of his recommended he get some good quality kitchen knives, as it will make the cooking process easier and more enjoyable. He doesn't want to spend too much, but he wants to know it’s a good knife.

Features to look for:

  • Knives in one of the brand’s less expensive lines, like Sora or Kanso, for affordability.
  • Most used knives, like chef’s knives and paring knives.

Recommended Products: Shun Sora 8-inch Chef's Knife, Shun Kanso Paring Knife

Shelley: Aspiring Culinary Professional Looking for Good Tools

Shelley plans to go to culinary school to learn how to be a chef. She wants good knives to help her with the process and ones that will last for a long time. She’d also like attractive knives, as she’s not sure where she might end up working in the future.

Features to look for:

  • Sets with several knives to cover everything she needs.
  • A safe way to store the knives, like a knife roll or block.

Recommended products: Shun Classic Student Set, Shun Premier Professional Block Set

Let Us Help You Find the Right Shun Knife for You

Kitchen knives are one of the most used cooking tools out there. If you feel like you need more information than this article can offer, get in touch with a Curated Kitchen Expert! Chatting with an Expert is free, and each one of them is an enthusiast willing to offer suggestions, make recommendations, and answer any question you may have.

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Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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